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Port Orchard Keeps its Moratorium on Medical Marijuana Businesses

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PORT ORCHARD – Testimony in favor of medical marijuana dispensaries did not sway the Port Orchard City Council's position that such businesses shouldn't be allowed inside city limits, at least for now.

The council on Feb. 23 imposed a moratorium on medical marijuana businesses. Council members want to see what happens with a bill being considered by the state Legislature that would clarify medical marijuana laws.

They also want time to discuss where the city should allow dispensaries to locate if the bill passes.

That was deemed an emergency ordinance, which allowed the city to immediately implement the moratorium. But the council was still required to hold a public hearing on the emergency ordinance, which took place during Tuesday's council meeting.

Kent Bratt, a Bremerton attorney, told the council that he has a client who wants to open both a dispensary and a medical marijuana referral service at 944 Bay Street.

Tacoma Greenthumb, the dispensary, and Greenthumb Medical, the referral center, are separate businesses. Bratt's client prefers to have both in the same location, but if the city won't budge on its prohibition, the business owner plans to locate the referral service on Bay Street and the dispensary at 4978 SE Mile Hill Drive, outside city limits.

Bratt argued that the referral service shouldn't fall under the moratorium because no marijuana products would be on site.

The city issued a business license for Greenthumb Medical, but the city's planning department denied a building occupancy permit because the words "medical marijuana" were mentioned on the application, said Development Director James Weaver.

"My interpretation (of the ordinance) is very, very strict," Weaver said. "If it lists anything about marijuana, that's grounds to withhold the permit."

The city's police department also has to sign off on permit applications. Chief Al Townsend said he'll continue to take a hard line against marijuana dispensaries, at least until the law is clarified. He believes, however, that a referral service would be allowed.

"If there's not marijuana distributed at the facility, then that in my mind would not count as inside the moratorium," Townsend said. "I would think they'd be OK to have such a facility."

Use of medical marijuana has been legal in Washington since 1998. But the law is vague, and Bratt said patients authorized by a physician to use the drug often turn to suppliers who operate under the radar.

"Most people, if they have a prescription, must deal with rather unsavory elements," Bratt said. "My client proposes to have an above-board, legitimate business for those who have a prescription."

Bratt noted that false referrals exist, but said his client's business would follow a strict and transparent procedure. Detailed records would be available to law enforcement, he said, answering a council member's question.

Greenthumb Medical contracts with a physician, who looks at patient records and conducts a physical exam before issuing a medical marijuana card, Bratt said.

Tacoma Greenthumb, the dispensary, keeps records of what products are issued and who receives them.

Port Orchard Councilwoman Carolyn Powers asked how two associated businesses can both issue the authorization and supply the product, suggesting a possible ethical conflict.

Bratt replied that Tacoma Greenthumb is a nonprofit. Patients may donate, but are not required to do so. The medical marijuana bill being debated in Olympia would require dispensaries to be nonprofit.

Port Orchard resident Josh Zetzsche encouraged the city to end the moratorium. He suggested Port Orchard is missing out on potential revenue from a much-needed industry.

"This is a medicine, and people need it. I know people it honestly helps," he said. "To just stick our heads in the ground is just going to perpetuate a black market. It's already going on, is what I'm saying. Let's regulate it. Let's collect taxes for it."

Danielle Rimbert of Port Orchard asked if the council members knew of any fallout in towns, like Belfair and Port Angeles, where dispensaries are allowed.

Mayor Lary Coppola said a former Port Angeles official told him there has been no obvious effect there, but it may be too soon to tell.

Outside the meeting, Rimbert said: "I'm fine with (a medical marijuana dispensary) if it's monitored and only the people with prescriptions can go inside. I don't see any ill effects on the community."

The council took no action on the ordinance, meaning the moratorium stands as is for six months from the date it was issued.

The city of Poulsbo also has enacted a medical marijuana moratorium. Bremerton has denied licenses for dispensaries but a referral center got a license.

News Hawk- Jacob Husky 420 MAGAZINE
Source: kitsapsun.com
Author: Chris Henry
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Copyright: Scripps Interactive Newspapers Group
Website: Port Orchard keeps its moratorium on medical marijuana businesses
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